Friday, January 27, 2012

Supreme Court Takes a Small Steps for Privacy and Feeedom!

Thursday, January 26th, 2012
Baton Rouge, Louisiana


Is privacy dead in America? Many of us thought it was after a disastrous year of almost total usurpation of both freedom and privacy by the federal government. Since the founding of our country more than 200 hundred years ago, Americans have enjoyed the core rights and liberties that have made our country not just unique, but exceptional in protecting basic freedoms. But no more! Under the guise of protecting Americans from terrorism, congress and the past two presidents have stripped away many of the protections guaranteed to American citizens under the Bill of Rights.

Recently, Republicans and Democrats, alike have ignored Benjamin Franklin’s admonition made over 200 years ago when he said, “Security and freedom are not the same thing….in fact just the opposite. The more security you seek, the less freedom you have. The people with the most security are in jail. That’s why they call it maximum, security.”

First came the Patriot Act. Simply put, the Patriot Act is one of the most egregious acts against rights and liberties that we have witnessed in our lifetimes. The President and many members of Congress will argue that their primary job is to keep America safe. But that’s not the starting point. Their primary job is to see that the Constitution is enforced, and that means keeping us free.

As Judge Andrew Napolitano said on his Fox News program recently, the job of these federal officials is to keep us “Free from tyrants who sought and claimed power from thin air; free from prince-like federal agents who could behave without constitutional or legal restraint; free to live with a government that obeys its own laws. Any president who keeps us safe but unfree is ignoring his oath to the American people.” And doesn’t keeping us safe include keeping us safe from the tyranny of our own government?

The abuses under the so called Patriot Act began almost immediately. Two U.S. Senators have sent out early warnings. Senator Mark Udall from Colorado, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee warned: “Americans would be alarmed if they knew how this law is being carried out.” His concerns were echoed by Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, also a member of the Intelligence Committee, who charged: “When the American people find out how their government has secretly interpreted the Patriot Act, they will be stunned and they will be angry.”

Then, during an unwatched hour on New Year’s Eve, when most Americans were focused on revelry and football, President Obama signed the latest assault on our freedoms. The National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 gives the President the authority to have American citizens arrested and detained indefinitely, without due process. We fought the British for our freedom, and as Judge Napolitano points out, even King George did not have the power to indefinitely detain any citizen. I gotta say it again. American citizens can be arrested on American soil and imprisoned indefinitely on the basis of accusations alone.

There is little good news, but every now and then, there’s a glimmer. Just this week, the U.S. Supreme Court, often notoriously blind to the cause of individual rights, unanimously decreed that a search warrant is necessary before law enforcement officers can use a GPS device to track and follow a criminal suspect. The Court used a little common sense for a change in ruling that despite advances in surveillance technology, the Fourth Amendment still applies.

But what if the police can track an individual without installing equipment? Many new cars have GPS devices factory installed. Do the same privacy rules apply?
How about the fact that current technology allows the government to track the locations of millions of cell phones at will? The court “punted” on any clarification here, and said they would consider these issues at a later time. Is your cell phone activity and location being tracked right now?

The basic freedoms and protections of American citizens under the Bill of Rights have never before been under such assault. The stripping of these freedoms began following 9/11 under the Bush Administration. Under the Obama Administration, civil liberties have been further cut to the bone. Lenin summed up the direction our nation is heading, well, when he said, “It is true that liberty is precious, so precious that it must be carefully rationed.”

There was a small step towards the protection of privacy in the Supreme Court decision this week. But if the call for security smothers the rights of privacy, and the right to be free, then the terrorists do win. How can America issue a call for freedom in other countries, while deserting it here at home? Our freedom train is off the track. We have some adjusting to do. Before the essential principles on which our country was founded disappear right before our eyes. Edmund Burke said it this way, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."


“Those who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security deserve neither liberty nor security.” Benjamin Franklin

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers and websites throughout the country. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at

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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Who's To Blame for Rising Insurance Rates?

Thursday, January 19th, 2012
Baton Rouge, Louisiana


A headline in several regional newspapers caught my eye. “Homeowners Insurance Rate Increases Have Slowed,” said one front page banner. I guess that’s supposed to be good news. But in my home state of Louisiana, rates have skyrocketed since 2005 -- by an astounding 40%. No other state in the country has experienced such dramatic increases. And we continue to read that it’s all the fault of Katrina. There have been no major weather related losses in a number of years, but the rates continue to go up. There must be something rotten in Denmark. Hmmm – make that Louisiana.

Bob Hunter, director of insurance at the Consumer Federation of America, pulls no punches in laying the blame right at the feet of insurance regulators. He points out that insurance companies are using a number of tricks to eliminate their risk while the homeowner takes it on the chin with rates that continue to climb, hand over fist. “It simply requires regulation,” says Hunter. “Why haven’t rates gone down? Are they (insurance companies) gouging?” Ya’ think?

A significant factor in rates staying high is the continuing problems of AIG. This mammoth insurance conglomerate, that has a huge presence in Louisiana, was the first major insurance company to be bailed out as the recent Wall Street crisis evolved. Congress authorized an injection of more than $130 billion in taxpayer funds to AIG and its numerous subsidiaries. Not only were billions injected to pay off debts, the federal treasury plowed some $40 million of taxpayer dollars to take a partial stake in the ownership of AIG. As of today, the government owns 77% of AIG. So how’s your investment doing? The Wall Street Journal reported last week that AIG shares have declined 50% in this year alone.

Here’s why major international insurance groups like AIG are important to small states like Louisiana. T It’s not the population that matters. It’s where the risks are located. And there are a number of major companies operating in Louisiana that have significant exposure for insurance purposes. Just imagine the cost of insuring the offshore oil industry operating along Louisiana’s coastline. How about the nation’s largest chemical industry located up and down the Mississippi River? And there are major risks to insure in the first, third, and fifth largest ports in this country all located in Louisiana. In short, Louisiana is in the top five of states that have the highest industrial insurance risks. That means Louisiana is a major customer for many insurance companies both nationally and worldwide. Other large industrial states throughout the country share similar major industrial risks and need large national and international insurance companies to offer needed insurance protection, but none of them have had the excessive increases in insurance rates that Louisiana has.

There have been numerous press reports of widespread misspending at AIG using taxpayer funding. One investigation outlines a plush retreat by AIG executives at the St. Regis resort in California, including golf, massages, manicures, pedicures -- the works. These folks sure know how to show their gratitude. You can imagine the criticism the company received for this junket. But after getting roasted for the taxpayer – funded week-long retreat, far from learning a lesson, these same top executives keep thumbing their noses at taxpayers and continue to spend your money for their personal pleasure.

The question many people are asking is who is supposed to be watching out for these shenanigans? Who regulates companies like AIG? And why have these companies been allowed to get away with such outrageous and irresponsible behavior? But wait! In states all over the country, this is the era of little or no regulation. Keep government off the backs of the private sector. Don’t bog down insurance companies with all these regulations. You can trust them with your money…right? Let the free market reign.

And Louisiana, has been in the forefront of this laissez-faire approach to insurance regulation. In most states, companies selling automobile and property insurance have to apply for approval of any rate increase to the insurance department in any state where they want to sell insurance. Not in Louisiana. The Insurance Rating Commission, once a stronghold of watchdogs for taxpayers, was abolished a few years back, leaving insurance companies free to raise their rates on a regular basis.
In virtually every other state, there is a consumer protection office, often located under the office of the Governor or the Attorney General. The mandate of consumer protection office is to independently check and audit regulated companies to be sure that they are following the law. This mandate applies not only to insurance companies, but also to utility companies that have a monopoly operating in certain areas of the state. But in Louisiana, there are no independent checks and balances. And the loser, of course, is the policy holder, the ratepayer, the consumer.

Although the company has a major presence in Louisiana, insurance officials have chosen not to audit AIG’s activities. In years past, no insurance group was immune from being audited, particularly as financial problems began to occur. In 1993, Louisiana joined Texas in doing the first major audit of Lloyd’s of London, the world’s largest insurance company. But since the deregulation mode has obtained a firm grip on Louisiana, major companies like AIG have become free from state oversight.

New York state officials have undertaken what the Governor of New York says will be a “major investigation” of AIG mismanagement and abuses. Former Attorney General and present Governor Andrew Cuomo said in announcing his financial review of the company, “AIG’s belief is that they can have the party, and the taxpayers will have a hangover.”
The concern for Louisiana policy holders should be: why does it take an official in another state to initiate an investigation of potential mismanagement and misuse of funds that come out of the Bayou State? In Louisiana, there is no pre-approval limitation of increasing your insurance rates that are now the highest in the nation. So there is no more Insurance Rating Commission. And Louisiana law specifically prohibits giving its citizens separate insurance consumer protection by the Attorney General or any other official office.

So the bottom line is: thanks to the legislature, the Louisiana insurance policy holder has less protection than policy holders in just about any other state in America. And while the AIG shenanigans continue to be ignored in Louisiana, the politicians in Washington keep telling us that companies like AIG, for the good of the country, have to be saved no matter what, regardless of the huge burden on the taxpayers. The way the politicians see it, these companies are too big to fail. And the fleecing of you and me, the taxpayers? Well, that’s just collateral damage.

“A government, for protecting business only, is but a carcass, and soon falls by its own corruption and decay.”
Amos Bronson Alcott
Peace and Justice.

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers and websites throughout the South. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at

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Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Presidential Elections and the Bayou State!

Thursday, January 5th, 2012
New Orleans, Louisiana


Governor Mitt Romney’s Iowa caucus victory this week drew nothing more than a few yawns down in Louisiana. For several reasons. First, presidential politics is not a front burner issue right now. For many Louisianans, there are more important priorities. LSU is playing for the national championship down in New Orleans, and the Saints are making a viable run toward another Super Bowl. It’s still duck and deer season, and Mardi Gras is just around the corner. But the main reason that folks in the Bayou State can’t get excited over Romney is because, as far as they know, he has not stepped a foot in the state. Romney seems to be well on his way to winning the Republican presidential nomination, and once again, Louisiana will be left on the side of the road.

Neighboring governor Rick Perry initially looked like “the man” to Louisiana politicos who gave any early attention to the presidential race. Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal jumped into the Perry campaign with both feet, making a number of stops alongside the Texas governor. On paper, Perry looked pretty good to a number of Louisiana voters. The state has become more conservative in recent years, and is a cinch to stay in the republican column. Perry has been strongly supportive on the oil and gas issues that ring so well in Louisiana, where similar interests are shared. His positions on social issues make Tea Partiers and evangelicals jump for joy. But then his “oops” moment came, and he seemed to dig that hole deeper every time he opened his mouth. As a national candidate, Perry’s toast. He’s crashed and burned, and he’ll soon be out of the race.

Louisiana had a chance to be every bit as relevant in the presidential mix as was Iowa. It was the only state to have a major statewide election less than two months before the Iowa caucus. A few creative minds in the state suggested a “beauty contest.” Why not allow any of the presidential candidates to file and put their name on the Louisiana gubernatorial ballot, to give voters a chance to express their initial choice for president? The vote would be non-binding as far as picking delegates. But any serious presidential candidate could not afford to ignore the state. There would have been numerous campaign stops and media buys that would have been a boon to Louisiana. Perry particularly would have benefited, and Governor Jindal could have scored points for Perry and himself as they traveled the Bayou State campaigning. But Louisiana has never been on the cutting edge of looking out for itself, and true to form, the idea was ignored by legislators.

Some local political observers are saying that Jindal made a big mistake endorsing Perry, and that he’s hurt his chances for a national political move. But there just might be a method to Jindal’s perceived madness. Jindal knew well he was not the strongest candidate for joining the eventual nominee as a vice presidential candidate. Louisiana brings nothing politically to a national ticket. It’s not a “swing state” like either Florida or Ohio. And if Jindal’s heritage is a consideration, Hispanics far outweigh Indian Americans. That’s why we hear names like Sen. Marco Rubio, a Hispanic from Florida, and Governor Bob Portman from Ohio. Both are fairly new to office, and considered lightweights in the arena of governing, but you’ve got to get elected before you can run the country. And if Romney does get the nomination, as it seems he will, South Carolina’s popular Governor Nikki Haley would be a possible VP choice. She’s also an Indian American and she’s endorsed Romney, giving his campaign a big boost for the all important South Carolina republican primary in two weeks. So Jindal is realistically out of the picture as a serious candidate as part of a republican ticket.

Jindal has two future political choices, and his decision will no doubt be made based on who is elected president. If President Obama is re-elected, then there is a wide open opportunity for a Jindal presidential bid in four years. The Romneys, Pauls and Gingrichs of this campaign season will be older, and the party will be yearning for younger blood. In four years, Jindal will be winding down his second term as governor as the new campaign season approaches. The timing could not work better for him. And that’s where the Perry endorsement brings big dividends. The big bucks for national office are in Texas. Perry owes Jindal big-time, and is certain to return the favor by helping to raise big campaign bucks. So Jindal’s presidential bid, who some in Louisiana feel is his obsession, will receive bountiful benefits from the timing, and Jindal’s ability to “cash in” on all his campaign stops on behalf of number of other republican office holders around the country.

But what happens if Romney defeats Obama, which is certainly a strong possibility? Jindal won’t just wait around for four years without a base. We all know how quickly voters forget. He needs a platform. And he can gain such by taking on Louisiana incumbent Senator Mary Landrieu, whose term is up for renewal in 2014. Jindal will still be governor in a strong republican state and will be running against a democrat who has a good bit of baggage. It’s a lousy time to be a longtime serving incumbent, particularly in a red state when you are a mainstream democrat. Obama care, not returning home all that often, and a poor record of nominating federal judges, just for beginners, will be a few of the many issues that will be thrown back at Landrieu. When the Republicans smell the blood, Jindal will have the first right of refusal to take on the lady. So Louisiana voters won’t have to wait long. Jindal’s future plans will no doubt be decided in the election this November.
v. Rick Perry, Sen. Mary Landrieu, Louisiana Politics, Pres
Back to Mitt Romney. He barely won in Iowa, nudging Rick Sanatorium by a mere 8 votes. As my friend Andy Borowitz observed, the last time so few people decided a Presidential race they were all on the Supreme Court. But Romney wasn’t supposed to do all that well in Iowa. He now has solid momentum moving into New Hampshire for next week’s primary where he should win big. And the campaign contributions just keep rolling in at a pace far ahead of the all the other candidates combined. I was in New York several weeks ago where a friend invited me to be his guest at a Romney fundraiser. The former Massachusetts governor raised $10.5 million at that event, and this was just one of a series of such events Romney had scheduled on that day alone.

So we’re talking about a barn burner of a presidential race, a Louisiana governor anxious to move on to what he perceives to be bigger and better offices, and possible BCS and Super Bowl championships. Add to this gumbo a hint of “throw me somethin’ mister,” soon to be in the air and you have to ask -- Is 2012 going to be a great year or what?
“When I was a boy I was told that anybody could become President; I'm beginning to believe it” ~Clarence Darrow

Peace and Justice.

Jim Brown

s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the South and on websites worldwide. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at

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